History & Legends

Portofino, a World apart
January 2009

From the Ancien Ligurians to Monasteries

Portofino OUR LIGHTS

It all began with a few cottages built on supports over the water at the mouths of two rivers: the S. Siro, (where today stands the Cinema Centrale, formerly the Savoia) and the Magistrato (where to- day stands the International Pharmacy). When violent rains didn’t provoke over- flowing and flooding, two smaller rivulet flowed from these river.

In the summer they were dry and the cause of bad odors and swarms of mosquitoes.

Let’s immagine here, exactly were Santa Margherita Ligure is now, the site of the first primitive settlement of a group of Tigullians that were conquered only by the Romans after the Ligurian wars that ended in 166 BC. Allied with the Ligurians of Velleia on Mount Penna, they were “beaten but not tamed”.

But the Tigulliansof this locality, which was then called Pescino, had little to do with the Romans. Occasionally some Roman galleys would arrive at Portus Delphini (Portofino) whose name was of Roman origins although its port had al- ready been used by the Phoenicians being the only existing shelter between the Gulf of La Spezia and the port of Ge- noa. The inhabitants of Pescino, intent on cultivating what little could be pro- duced from the small fields in the val- leys, rarely went to Portus Delphini. Any encounters they might have had with the Romans were on the sea, in their little gulf where they went fishing.

The inhabitants of Portus Delphini and Pescino spoke their native Celtic Ligu- Han, the Romans Latin, two very diffe- rent languages, reciprocally incom- prehensible. By land certainly no one braved the steep impassable cliffs that surge vertically from the sea and led to Portus Delphini; passing the Focetta where the castle is, one had to climb the rocks to reach the beach which lies just beyond it. Further on, a dense forest be- gan, “the Black Forest” as the Romans called it. The Roman road Aurelia Scauri did not pass by Pescino, which in contrast with Segesta Tigullinorum (Sestri Levante), Lavagna, and Rapallo, remained isolated and inaccessible by land.

For this reason, if vestiges of the Romans are scarce in the eastern part of Tigullio, we have much less in the western part. The Goths, who arrived in 493 AD, maintained the Roman administration in the territory instituting their own mi- litary chief, a “comes” (a Count) in the Roman “pagi”. Then in 553 the Bizantines took over, establishing as their ca pitol what is probably today Lavagna the ancient city of Tigullia of which Plinio spoke at the beginning of the millenium.

The inhabitants of Tigullio (Site gulf area) have few contacts with the habarbarian invaders and maintained the ; ‘o paganisns which preceded the Romans. It is well known that the word “paganism” derives from the resistance its the “pagi” (villages, in the Roman terminology) of Greco-Roman cults which existed prior to the advent of Christianity. The Lou gobards who descended in Liguria con verted to Catholicism through Queen Teodolinda. They were very devoted to Saint Michael and constructed several churches to this saint. The Liçurians, however, never forgot that before they had been pagans and called the church of the Roman Pomarus San Michele ili Pagana. It was in the sixth century that mona chism, having already begun in the west, began to develop in Liguria. This is evident by the foundation by monks of the monastery of San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte.

Portofino, a world apart.